The name Sanmotoonge (산모퉁이) is terribly romanized, which makes it very difficult to remember how to spell it correctly, but in Korean it means mountain corner. As the name implies, that is exactly where this cafe is located. As a result, the view from the cafe and its terraces is incredible.
Sanmotoonge Cafe is part of the very lovely area of Buamdong (부암동), a mountainous area on the very north side of Seoul. Buamdong, being more remote and quiet than most neighborhoods, has a very different vibe than everywhere else in Seoul. Every time I visit it feels like I'm on vacation. Although there are many more cafes in the area, I will leave those for a future blog post and concentrate here on the most popular cafe in Buamdong.
This popularity stems from the cafe having been featured in several Korean dramas, the most well known one being Coffee Prince. Now I don't know much about Korean dramas, since I can't bear to watch one for more than 5 minutes (why are women always portrayed as weak people who can never control their emotions and always have to scream/fight and being carried home drunk, while in reality Korean women are anything but that?!), but I do know when a place does show up in a drama, it's game over for peace and quiet.
This place is no exception, because its jam-packed with people during the weekend and very difficult to get a seat. However, I was there on a late Friday afternoon/early evening and it was virtually empty. Keep that in mind when you are planning to visit. Another side effect of being featured in a drama is that you can jack up your prices to astronomical levels. At the time of writing a simple Iced Latte costs ₩9000, so that gave me the legitimization to stay half a day.
It's not that I stared bored out of the window for half a day, because this cafe has so much to see that you won't get bored easily. If you're getting tired of the view (which is impossible in my opinion), you can always move to the basement where there is a kind of exhibition of quirky artifacts and superheroes. I'm not sure if you can call it art, but the items in the room sure do make for fun photo props.
There's also another room with Korean War memorabilia. From the cafe you are able to see the old fortress wall surrounding Seoul. Being so close to the Blue House, this wall is still being used with manned guard posts every few hundred meters or so.
Although the interior of the cafe is nice, what really does it for me is its terraces. There is one big one on the ground floor and a few smaller ones on the top floor. They are beautifully designed and the view you get from them is spectacular. How much you can see of this view however, really depends in which season you are visiting, so make sure you time it right. If you come in the smog ridden winter or spring, you're mostly out of luck. However, I was there in summer during the monsoon season, and the rain clouds just came drifting in. It was a magnificent sight to behold. I recon that fall would be gorgeous as well, since the foliage in Korea is very spectacular.
How to get there
Take subway line 3 to Gyeongbukgung Station (경복궁역) and exit the station at Exit 3. Keep walking straight until you see a bus stop with an LCD sign. Take bus 1020, 1711, 7016, 7018, or 7212 and get off at Buam-dong Community Service Center (부암동민주센터). The stops are announced in English so it shouldn't be a problem to figure out where to get off. Once you get off you immediately turn right and walk slightly uphill along the street. Turn left (do not cross!) when you see a zebra in front of you and walk uphill again. Follow the road that turns to the right (past a gray building with flowers in front of it) towards a white house. Take the road to the right of that house (there is a red sign for another cafe on the route to Sanmotoonge) and keep walking uphill (10 minutes or so) until you see a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. That's the entrance to Sanmotoonge. For a video with directions click here.
Address: 97-5 Buam-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul (서울특별시 종로구 부암동 97-5)